Legal challenge looms over night flights plans

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The Independent Online

Transport Correspondent

Another legal challenge is set to be mounted against government plans to increase the number of night flights at Heathrow and Gatwick airports.

Richmond council, which, along with a group of other local authorities, has previously twice challenged successfully the Government on the issue, is examining closely a statement slipped out by the Department of Transport last week confirming the proposed increase in night flights.

The statement confirms that in future the number of flights will be regulated by a quota system based on the amount of noise caused by each aircraft, ranging from 0.5 units for the quietest aircraft to 16 for the noisiest. In effect, the new regulations are unchanged from previous versions issued before the challenge in the courts, but by consulting again with local people and other affected parties, Stephen Norris, the transport minister who issued the new regulations, is convinced that the Government has now cleared all the legal hurdles.

However, David Williams, the Liberal Democrat leader of Richmond council, which lies below Heathrow's flightpath, said: "We will be looking at this very carefully as we have mounted successful challenges already.

"The Government has caved in to commercial considerations, ignoring the right to a decent night's sleep, just because a few jet-lagged businessmen from Hong Kong want to fly to Britain and get there in the early morning."

HACAN, the campaign group against airport noise, says that night flights between 11pm and 7am have doubled since 1988. Its president, Professor Walter Holland, said: "As the number of flights increases, the anger about night flights intensifies."